14 Burning Questions for 2012: #5 – Arkansas

Fourteen teams and 14 questions.  We’re up to question #5 today and it relates to the Arkansas Razorbacks.

#5 – How much will the Razorbacks miss Bobby Petrino?

This may be the biggest question in the SEC this year, if not all of college football.

Bobby Petrino finally had the deck stacked in his favor this year.  Returning all star caliber quarterback?  Check.  One of the top running backs in the league?  Check.  A new defensive coordinator and renewed hope for the defense?  Check.  Your two toughest opponents at home this season?  Check.

And then Petrino threw it all away.

So how will the 2012 Hogs respond?  I think there’s two major possibilities.

First, obviously, losing their coach as they did could prove to be a rallying point for this team.  You know the deal, us versus the world.  The coaching staff remained in place and veteran John L. Smith was hired to guide the Hogs through this season.  There’s still a Petrino calling the plays, Bobby’s brother Paul.  So there’s a good chance 2012 will go just the same without Petrino as it would have with him.

On the other hand, if it was that easy everybody would be doing it.  There’s a reason Bobby Petrino was the head coach and not Paul Petrino.  There’s bound to be a difference in how the team responds with no Bobby Petrino on the sideline.

For most of the schedule, though, that difference probably won’t matter.  Jacksonville State, Louisiana-Monroe, Rutgers and Tulsa.  Yawn.  Kentucky and Ole Miss?  More yawn.  Texas A&M (a), Auburn (a) and Mississippi State (a) are very winnable games, but the Hogs should be favored in each.  The Petrino “difference,” however, will be on display in the other three games: Alabama (h), South Carolina (a) and LSU (h).  With Alabama lined up third on the schedule, it won’t take long for us to see how this team responds with Smith and not Petrino at the helm.

When you take a look at what Arkansas returns this year, it underscores (again) how stupid Petrino was professionally (not to mention personally).  Of course there’s Tyler Wilson, who probably is the best quarterback in the conference.  He threw for over 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns last season.  And you’ve heard that running back Knile Davis will be returning after missing all last year with an injury.  But the Hogs also bring back their top two rushers from last season, Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo.  Yes, Arkansas lost a ton of talent at wide out, but, overall, they return four players that caught at least 20 passes last season.

Defensively, the Hogs should be better under new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes who comes to Fayetteville from Ohio State.  The defensive line returns six of their top eight players from last year (according to Phil Steele), the secondary is experienced, but the linebackers may be a step behind last year’s bunch.

Bobby Petrino left behind a talented, national title hunting team.  Perhaps John L. Smith will be able to finish what Petrino started.

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